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New study shows eye scan can reveal changes associated with Alzheimer's disease

14 March 2019

Researchers say they plan to study people who have a genetic risk for Alzheimer's but don't have symptoms to see they may be able to predict the development of the disease.

An OCTA scan could even reveal the changes in tiny capillaries nearly less than half the width of a human hair, before the blood vessels changes are displayed on a brain scan such as an MRI or cerebral angiogram, which highlights only the larger blood vessels.

The retina is an extension of the brain and shares many similarities with it suggesting deterioration in one mirrors the other.

For their study, researchers used OCTA to compare the retinas of 39 Alzheimer's patients with 37 people with mild cognitive impairment, and 133 cognitively healthy people. The primary aim for researchers was to spot retinal degeneration that may be particularly linked to Alzheimer's disease.

A new kind of precise and non-invasive imaging called optical coherence tomography angiography (OCTA) has assisted much of the recent research on the eye's connection with Alzheimer's.

They stressed that while they have proved that blood vessels become sparser in those with Alzheimer's, the next step is to show this happens before memory problems appear, which would give doctors a way to diagnose the condition years in advance. These concentrations in the spinal fluid have been found to increase the chances that the disease progresses by 2.5 times.

Prof Fekrat and colleagues said diagnosing Alzheimer's is a challenge.

He also claimed that the learning model could drastically slow down the progression of Alzheimer's disease.

Alzheimer's disease is now diagnosed once symptoms appear, such as memory troubles and perception problems.

Ophthalmologist and senior author Sharon Fekrat, M.D., Professor of Ophthalmology at Duke, along with lead author Dilraj Grewal, M.D., Associate Professor of Ophthalmology at Duke, expect that their work may one day have a positive impact on patients' lives. But such techniques to study the brain are invasive and costly.

"It's possible that these changes in blood vessel density in the retina could mirror what's going on in the tiny blood vessels in the brain, perhaps before we are able to detect any changes in cognition".

"But future studies need to focus on earlier stages of the disease", Isaacson said in an email.

Alzheimer's is the most common form of dementia, and affects as many as 5 million Americans, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New study shows eye scan can reveal changes associated with Alzheimer's disease